Recovering Linux – 3

This is the third installment of a series of posts to document “How I recovered my Linux systems…”  See the first post and second post for the preliminaries…

My PC-A system’s hardware problem identified  — disk drive sda failed  — and backup resources verified… Need to replace the failed drive and rebuild the system from “bare metal.”  I’d been planning to upgrade this system’s Ubuntu/Linux from version 10.04 to the latest long-term support (LTS) version, 12.04, and this hardware glitch has simply forced my hand.

Time to go shopping? Nope, first let’s open up the box and figure out what, by brand name and model, I’m going to be replacing.  And prudence (Murphy’s great-aunt) dictates that I dig out my anti-static ground strap and attach my wrist to the box-frame, just to be sure I don’t zap something whilst I’m digging around inside.

For me, usually the most formidable problem in any PC repair is just getting the darned enclosure box opened… I’ve been inside this PC-A box before (had to replace a power supply about 18 months ago), and I replaced the little enclosure screws which hold the “just-slide-this-panel-off” sheet-metal with those great little case thumb screws — once you’re into your box for any reason, you’ll be back in there again in the future, so make it easy!

I had purchased PC-A back in 2008 from a really great supplier of Linux systems, eRacks in Orange, California.  This is a high-end “STUDIO” model workstation PC, and it comes in what’s called a “home theater PC” (HTPC) case, which looks a whole lot more like a piece of hi-fi stereo gear than it does a PC.  From the shipping box it came in (yes, I’ve kept that!), I could tell that this enclosure was manufactured by a company called “SilverStone.”  When I unscrewed the thumb screws to open the case, it’s the bottom, not the side, of the enclosure that slides back and off to reveal the PC guts within.  I can see where the two hard drives are mounted in a little internal drive shelf  — remember, I’m looking to see what make and model of disk drives are currently installed, and which one’s failed  —  and I come up against my usual nemesis: the practical mechanics of opening the case up fully so I can get at the drives (or anything else that I’d need).

Unless you do PC repair as a profession, you’ll find that opening up a PC enclosure or case to work on the innards is like solving a particularly difficult mechanical puzzle, with not-so-obvious slidey parts, hidden screws and catches, and sharp(!) edges and corners to skin knuckles on…  Not only that, but most PCs are absolutely stuffed with more cabling and wiring than they’d seem to need; too-long cable bundles get wound, wrapped and tie-wrapped to pretty much fill any-and-all empty space within, and there’s usually more than a couple of “dead-ends,” spare power supply connectors that aren’t connected to anything.  This makes it less than easy to see and work within the box — you’ll likely be disconnecting a few of these, so take very good notes so you can get everything connected back properly.

In this case, my STUDIO enclosure revealed the PC electronics only from the bottom, and the disk drive shelf looked initially to be a welded-in piece with absolutely no room or space around it to easily extract the drives.  A hard disk drive is installed by sliding it into its shelf, and then it’s held firmly in place with two little screws on each side of the drive.  From my bottom access to the enclosure, I could see (and touch) two screws on one side, but the other side of the drives was up against the front of the case, completely inaccessible.  How to get the drives out?

I confess:  I spent far too much time trying to figure out how to get this HTPC case to “open up” further —  it wasn’t at all obvious, and how was I going to get at the screws on the other side of the drives? — but all I succeeded in doing was demonstrating to myself that the top, sides, front and back were all riveted sheet-metal-to-frame, and unless I started doing something dumb like drilling on rivet heads, fully damaging things, I wasn’t going to budge this STUDIO case open any further.

The ‘Net is a wonderful place — time for a web search.  Firing up the search engine (why? see this post), I started looking, first for “silverstone” (which turned up cookware, an actress, a racing circuit…), then for “pc case” and “pc enclosure” (way too much irrelevance), for some how-to help in cracking the code to get these drives out.  Turned out to be a lengthy exercise — at first, it was hard to even find the corporate website for the case manufacturer… but persistence and another hint from the shipping box finally got me to SilverStone Technology Company, Ltd., where I discovered that my STUDIO enclosure was not exactly a “current model.”  SilverStone is very much actively engaged in designing state-of-the-art computer enclosures, but my STUDIO wasn’t listed in its current “above-the-fold” inventory of models.

One more trip back to the shipping box helped me discover that the model number designation for a STUDIO is an “LC11 Micro-AXT case” — and a bit more web searching finally got me here:  a comprehensive “how-to” article about the in’s-and-out’s of this particular case… including (ta-da!) how to get the disk drive shelf out.  (Moral of the story so far:  The world-wide-web is a wonderful place, where you’ll likely find information about the most obscure stuff… if you dig deep enough.)

Turns out that there’s one retaining screw (which I couldn’t see at first under all the cable bundles) which holds the disk drive shelf in-place — remove that, and the shelf simply slides to the right and out!  Once I got that sorted out, disconnecting the SATA data and power cables for each drive was easy, and the drives were now liberated from the case.

At this point, I feel obliged to stress this advice to you, gentle reader — As you’re taking a PC case apart:  aTake good written notes about every screw you remove and every cable you disconnect, because you’ll be taking apart alot of stuff, and your memory will probably not suffice to get it all back together again.  b) In fact, take black and silver Sharpie markers and make little marks and labels on cables and connectors (number or letter the mating male-female connectors).  c) Draw pictures and diagrams to guide re-assembly, and put all of this in your System Logbook.

Great.  So now I’ve got the two hard disks out of the box where I can see them.  And I now know which one is sda (the 180GB drive, the one that’s failed) and which is sdb (the 500GB drive, the still-good one) — How?  Well, from my System Logbook… I had recorded which-was-which when I received the system new!  I had documented my system’s configuration from the outset, even though (at that time) I had not taken the darn thing apart.  Oh, and each drive’s label tells me which is which by model and capacity.

So, I’ve got the failed drive in hand (and I mark it as “failed” with a Sharpie note on its label); it’s a Seagate Barracuda (actually, they both are), SATA interface technology.  So, now I’ve got something to go shopping for…

Off I go, to Micro Center in the Denver Tech Center — if I still lived in Portland, or near metro California, I’d hit Fry’s Electronics.  In the boonies, miles from any major metro area?… I’d be researching on  Point is, regardless of where you live (at least in non-third-world countries), you can readily find an PC electronics super-store, either physically or on-line, where you’re going to find what you need.  In this case, I found a whole shopping aisle filled with disk drives:  Seagate, Western Digital,  internal, external, 3.5-inch, SATA, IDE, and in a whole range of capacities from 80GB (gigabytes) right up to a few TB (terabytes).  What’s amazing is the range of prices: from a few tens-of-dollars (used, refurbished units) up to just over a-hundred-bucks for a couple of terabytes!

I’d gone looking for a 180GB drive to replace the failed unit… less than $50 if I wanted to do a straight swap, assuming I could find a direct replacement.  However, looking at the next disk-sizes up, 1TB and 2TB, meant spending not a lot more for either double or quadruple the original drive’s capacity.  It occurred to me that I could replace both the failed 180GB and the still-good 500GB drives in PC-A if I up-sized to a 2TB drive — and it’d cost about $110!  Affordable, and prudent.  Done deal.

Back home, installation is easy… Just open the package, slide the new 2TB drive into its shelf (no jumpers to configure, just plug-&-play) and screw it into retention, re-install the shelf unit back into its enclosure spot, tie it down with its hold-down screw, connect the right SATA data and power cables (I only need one set now, as I’m replacing two hard drives with one, and SATA cables only go on one way, the right way, as they’re keyed for correct orientation)… Basically, reversing everything I’d done to un-install stuff.

Double-check everything… especially for any cables unplugged or unconnected, either intentionally or accidentally.  Once I’m sure it’s all right, route, secure and tie-wrap all the cable bundles into immobility, especially making sure that they avoid fan blades and air-cooling paths.

Now, time to power-up?…

Next post:  Power-up and hardware checkout…

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6 Responses to Recovering Linux – 3

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